Black America’s wealth illusion: 50 Cent and the presentation of Black celebrity

Rapper 50 Cent recently admitted under oath that he is insolvent, filings show he is in debt to creditors to the tune of over $28 million dollars, and not worth the reported $155 million dollars Forbes had him pegged at earlier this year.
Many have stated he is lying, pointing to purported business practices used to hide assets in bankruptcy. But I believe in the essence of the quote by Maya Angelou, “When someone shows you who they are believe them…”  Or in this case when someone tells you under oath what they have, believe them.

This presentation versus reality brings to the forefront a poignant example of the illusion of Black wealth that has set upon America’s modern racial story.
I wrote about this last year in a Huffington Post piece entitled the “Decadent Veil,” in which I described how America veils the struggles of the large mass of Black America financially, with the success of a few Black celebrities.

Despite a large section of the 14 million Black households drowning in poverty and debt the stories of a few are told as if they represent those of millions, not thousands. It is this new veil of economics that has allowed for a broad swath of America to become not just desensitized to Black poverty, but also hypnotized by Black celebrity. How could we not? Our channels from ESPN to VH1 are filled with presentations of Black Americans being paid a king’s ransom to entertain. As Black celebrity has been shown to millions of people, millions of times, the story of real lives has also been lost, and with it the engine that thrust forward the demand for social justice by the masses.

Yet, 50 Cent’s admission adds a new twist, by challenging whether the presentation of Black celebrity’s wealth holdings across media is in and of itself real.

In the paradigm of believed Black wealth, in people’s minds he along with Jay Z, Dr Dre, Michael Jordan and Sean Combs balanced out the massive amount of economic failure we see with young Black males as a whole, by being an example that with limited education and no family resource you could still be immensely wealthy in this country. In many ways undercutting the far reaching truth that is not the case. Now the question that must be asked is larger than whether 50 Cent has money in the bank, but rather whether the Horatio Alger bootstrap story he has been part of selling to Black America holds truth. As stated by 50 Cent during testimony, “I take the jewelry and the cars back to the stores, … It’s like music videos, they say action and you see all these fancy cars but everything goes back to the dealership”, essentially admitting part of his business is to portray an illusion of wealth.
Unlike traditional forms of wealth that are highly measurable through resource measuring. Land transfer records, publicly traded corporate financials and other recording tools. Many Black celebrities make money on shows, album sales, licensing and appearances. They are then presented to us as far wealthier on paper, then they are in reality. 50 Cent’s admission should lead us to wonder what is the true measure of Black wealth in America? Bob Lord wrote an explosive piece framing the context of the national African American financial situation stating,

“The net worth of just 400 billionaires, a group that could fit into a high school gym, is on par with the collective wealth of the more than 14 million African- American households…”

If we were to then analyze just a small sample of these wealthy billionaires businesses, few if any include performing for anyone. In the top ten of the list we have Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Larry Ellison, The Walmart Family, the Koch Brothers and Michael Bloomberg.

The Harvard Business Review gave a backdrop to this analysis at a more economically visual level for the everyday Back family.
“If you’re white and have a net worth of about $356,000, that’s good enough to put you in the 72nd percentile of white families. If you’re black, it’s good enough to catapult you into the 95th percentile.”
Meaning only 700,000 of the over 14 million Black households have more than 356,000.00 in total assets. In contrast, of the nearly 83 million White households, over 23 million have more than $356,000 dollars in net assets.So with 50 Cent’s wealth holdings not holding up to task, this should leave us all to wonder about the true state of Black America’s financial state overall.


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